Digital Transformation: What’s your 2021 resolution?

January 1 is when all the things you’ve been thinking about doing finally start getting done (in theory, anyway). For manufacturers, the key question is whether 2021 will be a case of ‘New Year, New You’ or ‘Same Old, Same Old’?

 The Annual Manufacturing Report 2020 offers a tantalising insight into the mindsets and priorities of senior manufacturing executives immediately prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Based on research conducted in December and January 2019/20, the findings show that:

  • 87% of manufacturers believed the adoption of digital technologies was important for future prosperity (in 2019, the figure stood at 76%)
  • Almost the same amount, 89%, said digital technologies would improve their inbound and outbound supply chain relationships (79% in 2019)
  • The vast majority also said that digital technologies would enable their employees to become more productive (91%; 89% in 2019) and would accelerate innovation (87%; 84% in 2019)

Clearly, the ‘digital transformation’ message has got through. However, this overwhelmingly positive response to the adoption of digital tools doesn’t mean the game has been won. Not by a long shot.

For example, let’s look at the technologies manufacturers have already adopted or are actively considering. According to those surveyed for the Annual Manufacturing Report 2020:

  • Collecting data from devices was the most sought after capability, cited by 71% of participants
  • This was closely followed by cloud computing (66%) and automation (63%)
  • And almost one in two businesses (48%) had implemented or were in the process of implementing some form of cybersecurity policy

Flipping these findings on their head reveals a rather more worrying picture:

  • 29% (almost a third) of manufacturers said data-driven insights wasn’t part of their short to medium-term strategies
  • More than a third (37%) didn’t see or understand the value that automation can bring to their operation
  • And more than half (52%) didn’t have a cybersecurity strategy in place

This wasn’t good enough in January 2020 and it certainly won’t be good enough in the post-COVID, post-Brexit world of 2021.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Afterall, what the industrial community has achieved over the past year has been nothing short of remarkable.

One of the benefits of being suddenly exposed to digital tools through remote working, crisis-led diversification or having to work alongside more tech-savvy partners is that formerly closed minds have switched on to the value technology brings.


digital transformation - Close-up of the Engineer Holding Laptop with CAD Component digital model - image courtesy of Depositphotos.


From the conversations I’ve been having, it certainly sounds like many businesses are going to continue to adopt, adapt and innovate using digital tools.

That’s great to hear but we can’t afford for this to be merely rhetoric, these ambitions need to be acted upon, and swiftly. The world has changed irrevocably over the past year and business mindsets need to follow suit.

International opportunities, global competition

Around the world, governments are turning to their domestic manufacturing base to help kickstart their post-COVID economic recovery.

Furthermore, many of the UK’s industrial peers – both established and emerging – have introduced state-led ‘smart manufacturing’ initiative geared towards increasing the development and adoption of digital technologies. And in those countries which haven’t, forward-thinking manufacturers aren’t waiting around for one to appear.

The trends tipped to dominate the coming decade and beyond all represent significant opportunities for manufacturers – action on climate change, population growth, food and water security, the circular economy, renewable energy, electrification, healthcare, space exploration.



However, the number – not to mention calibre – of companies vying to grasp these opportunities is rising. The successful businesses will be those who demonstrate greater resiliency, productivity, efficiency and innovation.

Now is not the time for strategies based around resting on laurels or burying heads in the sand. Now is the time to take the commitment, dedication and sense of purpose manufacturers showed towards COVID-19 and use it to overcome future challenges. It’s time to move the needle from ‘talk’ to ‘action’.

Growth during uncertainty

The Access Group is a prime example of how being laser-focused on strategic growth pays dividends.

Despite everything that has happened, Access has continued to make significant strides forward in terms of organic and acquisitive growth projects, as well as geographic expansion.

Brendan Flattery, Managing Director, Access ERP
Brendan Flattery, Managing Director, Access ERP

During our last financial year (ending June 30, 2020), Access completed nine acquisitions that complement or expand our core offering, as well as launching Access People, a new division bringing together all of our HR, payroll, learning and development and compliance solutions.

Halfway through this new financial year and Access has acquired a number of additional businesses including Unleashed Software, which significantly strengthens our inventory management software offering for the manufacturing, wholesale and distribution markets.

It also furthers our integrated approach to software, processes and data, enabling organisations across the globe to benefit from clarity and control of their inventory, from source to sale.

Click here to find out more about how The Access Group can help you with your 2021 business growth plan. 


*Header image courtesy of Fiete Becher from Pixabay; all other images from Depositphotos.